Iran Preview – Group F Whipping Boys?
World Cup 2014
In a group that contains star players like Messi, Aguero and Dzeko, surely Iran will be the Group F whipping boys?
Iran have an impressive record of seven wins from ten fixtures in the last twelve months, although all seven wins came against fellow Asian nations, including a double over Thailand en route to qualifying for the 2015 Asia Cup.
Their record against non-Asian teams in recent months is less spectacular. They lost 2-1 at home to Guinea in March and followed that up with a dour 0-0 draw against Belarus, and another goalless draw against Montenegro.
Iran’s route to the World Cup began in the AFC Second Qualifying Round with a thrashing of the Maldives over two legs. They then topped their group in the third qualifying round, coming through six games undefeated.
They got off to a bad start in the final qualifying section, drawing with Qatar and losing to both Lebanon and Uzbekistan, but won their last three games without conceding a goal to top Group A and qualify for the World Cup ahead of South Korea
Iran’s squad is based around players who ply their trade in the Iran Pro League.
But, it does feature former Osasuna player and national captain Javad Nekounam. He has represented his country 135 times and is the lynchpin of the side, breaking up opposition attacks and starting most of Iran’s moves.
The only other star is young Charlton forward Reza Ghoochannejhad, who only made his international debut last year but found the net six times in six appearances. He is likely to play as the lone striker in Carlos Queiroz’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
Iran may hope to get something out of their final game against Bosnia, but they will probably be outclassed, as they will in their second fixture against Argentina, so the key match for Iran will be their opener against Nigeria.
The Nigerians will be favourites, but they play a similar counter-attacking style to Iran, which should allow Queiroz’s side to feel their way into the tournament, and if they can earn at least a point from their opening game, that will give them some confidence and momentum for the greater challenges that follow.
Iran is potentially one of the tournament’s whipping boys and it is hard to see how they can progress from a tricky group, but still they shouldn’t be underestimated. Queiroz has them set up to play in a similar style to his previous international side, Portugal, and whilst they may lack a Ronaldo or a Nani, they are proficient at sitting deep, frustrating their opponents and waiting for an opportunity to counter.
It is too much to expect them to get anything out of Argentina or Bosnia, but they might just be able to cause Nigeria some problems if the young African side get off to a slow start or display some of the positional recklessness they have shown in the past. Back Iran to sneak a draw at 11/5 in the Iran v Nigeria Match Betting market.